Martin Cohen

Author Archives: Martin Cohen

Martin Cohen is a science and piano teacher. He is also a jazz musician and composer.

The best way to quickly improve on the piano – 6 tips to advance quickly on the piano

There are piano players who practice regularly and who even practice a lot, but who advance only very slowly.

On the other hand, there are piano players who advance very quickly, even if they practice sometimes less than those mentioned above.

What’s the difference between those piano players? Would it be that piano players from the second group are just more talented than those from the first group, or is there perhaps anything else behind it?

Well, of course talent will play some role, but there is something else that influences even more the way you advance than only talent.

Because there are very talented piano players that hardly advance (even when practicing a lot), but also piano players that are not that talented but who advance very quickly (and who practice as much as the talented players). How’s that possible?

It turns out that the way you practice is of crucial importance for how quickly and effectively you advance on the piano.

Below, you will find 6 tips that will certainly help you to increase the effectiveness of your practice sessions on the piano.

Tip number 1: regularity

Of course, it’s good to practice a lot: someone who practices during one hour will improve more than someone who practices only 10 minutes, that’s not a secret!

But for a lot of us, practicing every day during an hour is not an option, whether it’s because you don’t have that time or for some other reason. And: it doesn’t even matter that much.

A problem however is that when people finally have some time to practice (for example during the weekend), that they then suddenly start to play 2 hours in a row and during the week they don’t even touch the piano.

It turns out to be much more efficient to play every day (or even every 2 days) only a short time, for example 15 minutes, than only once per week 2 hours in a row (even when those 2 hours are more than 5 to 6 times per week 15 minutes).

Regularity is therefore the keyword.

And of course, it doesn’t matter that much when from time to time you have to skip a practice session. In fact: it’s even good to have a break sometimes.

And, to be honest: a minimum of only 15 minutes per day isn’t that much of your time, right?

Tip number 2: be sure to adept a right position behind the piano

A good body posture and hand position are of ‘vital importance’ for success on the piano.

You can read more about the right body posture and hand position in my article: “The correct body posture and hand position for piano playing”.

Tip number 3: warming up

It’s good to do some ‘warming up-exercises’ before playing the piano.

For a detailed description of how you could do such a warming up, see my article: “Warming up before playing the piano”.

Tip number 4: always start slowly

A big mistake which is often made is that you directly want to play a new piece quickly even when you’re just starting to learn it.

And you might even be able to play some parts of that piece (more or less) correctly at a high tempo, but each time when you reach that difficult section it goes wrong and one or more mistakes creep in each time you play that section.

Instead of slowing down, many keep playing the piece at high speeds hoping that the mistakes will disappear at a certain moment by just repeating the piece many times.

The only efficient way to get rid of those mistakes is to slow down: play the whole piece in a (much) slower tempo. And play with a metronome, because otherwise you risk to speed up unnoticed and when you arrive at that difficult section, you’re already playing too quick to play it flawlessly.

Slow down as much as is needed to play that difficult section without playing mistakes. Is it still not possible to play it flawlessly, then have a look at tip number 6.

When you’re finally able to play the whole piece at that slower speed, then slightly increase the speed: put the metronome a little bit quicker (for example 5 beats per minute more) and try to play it now without making mistakes at this higher tempo. Continue like this by speeding up a little bit at each step till the moment that you can play the whole piece without any mistake at the tempo that you want.

Tip number 5: break up the piece in smaller pieces

When learning a new piece, you better break up the whole piece in ‘bite-sized chunks’.

So, don’t try to play the whole piece directly in one go.

So, what size do those ‘chunks’ have to be? Well, that’s not so easy to answer, that will depend on the piece. But I would say: take a musical phrase that is manageable for you, not too long, but also not too short.

Practice well that one phrase and when you can play it well, then go to the second phrase and practice that well.

Then try to play both phrases together.

Go to the third phrase, practice it and then play those 3 phrases together. Go on in this way till you can play the whole piece.

And remember: always start slowly (see tip number 4) and be sure that you can play the transitions between the phrases without faltering. If this is not possible, then look at tip number 6.

Tip number 6: concentrate on that difficult section

Is it still impossible to play that difficult section without any mistakes?

Then concentrate only on that section and practice it (slowly in the beginning, as always). So, don’t try to play the whole piece, but only that section and play it over and over till you can play it without mistakes.

And that section, that could eventually be only very small: for example, the transition from just one note to the next one. Practice that transition repeatedly till you can play it ‘automatically’ without thinking. It should be not only in your ‘brain memory’ but also in your ‘hand memory’: so as if your hand could ‘automatically’ play that transition from the first to the second note.

So, in fact you should break up a difficult section in even smaller sections (so sometimes even as small as the transition from one note to the other). Once you can play those very small sections, then try to play them together.

When you finally are able to play that whole difficult section without any mistake, then speed it up slightly and finally play the whole piece.

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Warming up before playing the piano

Before you start to play the piano, whether it’s a practice session or before a gig, it’s good to start with a ‘warming up’ for piano players, just like you would do before sporting.

Now, to be honest, when you’re a total beginner and you do very simple exercises, it’s perhaps less important (well, actually not important at all) to warm up before starting your practice session, but when you’re already (a bit) more advanced and you have to play pieces that contain a lot of notes and/or are difficult to play, then a warming up is probably a good idea to do before playing the piano.

Also before a gig, it’s mostly a good idea to start doing your warming up.

So, how does it look like, such a warming up for piano players?

Exercise 1

Stretch your arms in front of you and let your hands hang. In this position, shake your hands as if you wanted to shake them dry. Do this during about 10 seconds.

Then hold your hands up (the arms still stretched) and wave with both hands as if you were waving goodbye. The arms may move along with your hands. Do this also during approximately 10 seconds.

Exercise 2

Bring both hands together like in the first image.

warming up before piano playing

Turn your hands down as much as possible till you can’t go further (second image) and leave it there for some seconds. Then turn your hands as much as possible in the opposite direction (third image) and leave it for some seconds.

Exercise 3

Stretch the fingers of one hand and then, with your other hand, bend the stretched fingers backwards (not too much, it may not hurt).

Do the same with your other hand.

You could also do it with only the thumb (also of both hands), and eventually also with all the other fingers.

After that, shake your hands for a short while.

Exercise 4

This is the only exercise on the piano.

Play one or more scales several times up and down with your right hand as well as with your left hand.

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The correct body posture and hand position for piano playing

It often happens that people who try to play the piano by themselves without an (online) teacher learn a bad body posture and hand position.
And once you have adapted this bad habit, it’s very difficult to deprogram an incorrect body posture and hand position.
But, is an incorrect body posture and hand position really that bad?
Well, that depends… If you only want to play 2 or 3 (very) simple songs, you might get away with it, but if you really want to learn the piano well and to easily play many songs, then the right body posture and hand position will let you advance 100 times faster.
This means that it is very important to adept the right body posture and hand position directly from the beginning.

The correct body posture


First of all, it’s necessary to sit behind the piano at the right height.

For that purpose, be sure to have a piano bench that is adjustable in height.
Adjust the height of the bench in such a way that when you play the piano, your arms are horizontal or eventually slightly downwards.

Your feet should be flat on the ground, or eventually on a pedal and your knees should be just under the piano keyboard.
Keep your back straight.

And, this is very important: relax! When you have a tense posture behind the piano, your playing will suffer.
So: relax your shoulders, relax your body.

The correct hand position


A correct hand position is at least as important as a correct body posture.
Beginners tend to play with flat hands, and in the beginning you’ll get away with it, but when you want to play more difficult pieces later on, you get into trouble when you play with flat hands.
So, be sure to adept also the right hand position directly from the beginning (again: it’s difficult to deprogram bad habits).
Your hand should be as in the second picture below, as if you were holding an imaginary tennis ball in each hand while playing the piano.

So again: be sure to adept those correct positions for your body and your hands, and you will advance much quicker on the piano.

I wish you lots of success!

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Why would you learn music theory?

A lot of people don’t like music theory, they say that it’s boring, difficult and not necessary, because:

  1. it prevents you from being creative
  2. it takes away all spontaneity while playing music
  3. it’s only for jazz musicians and musicians that play classical music. I play rock/blues/reggae/hip-hop…, so I don’t need music theory
  4. music theory is totally unnecessary: there is software that does all the music theory for me
treble clef with piano keyboard

And you hear even more arguments against music theory.

Why do I think that music theory IS important?


To answer that question, let me discuss the arguments mentioned above.

  • It prevents you from being creative
    Some musicians believe that by some sort of ‘divine intervention’, they receive musical ideas and that music theory only gets in the way of this ‘magic’ reception of those musical ideas.
    I rather believe that it’s the other way around: by knowing your music theory, you will get musical ideas easier and quicker. You know which notes ‘work’ and which won’t, in stead of just trying to guess the right note by trial and error.
  • It takes away all spontaneity while playing music
    Here, the same arguments apply as for #1: by knowing what ‘works’ and what won’t, you can play with much more spontaneity and you also reduce the risk of playing mistakes.
  • it’s only for jazz musicians and musicians that play classical music. I play rock/blues/reggae/hip-hop…, so I don’t need music theory
    In every musical style, chords and scales are used, not only in classical music or in jazz.
    For example, in almost all styles of popular music the pentatonic scale is used.
    When you start to learn to play a certain musical style, you’re actually learning the music theory that applies to that musical style.
  • Music theory is totally unnecessary: there is software that does all the music theory for me
    Computer programs exist for almost everything…with the exception of creativity.
    Real creativity, real innovations only arise from the human brain, not in a computer program.

Even more arguments

Besides the above mentioned arguments, there is more to say in favor of knowledge about music theory when you play an instrument.



Imagine that you play in a band and the bass player tells the saxophone player: “We play in D minor“, and you have no clue of what he actually means by that, then the whole band has to stop to explain to you which notes you have to play in a D minor chord. When you finally understand how to do that, then all creativity and spontaneity will have disappeared like snow in the sun.

You can see from this example that music theory also acts as a language, as a means of communication between musicians. When you don’t know this ‘language’, you will perhaps still be able to play music, but not in a very efficient way.

When you know music theory, you will understand the relationship between all the elements in music. For example, you understand why you have to play a particular note and not another, you know how to form chords and why chords are formed in that way.

And what about reading music?


Is it possible to be a musician without being able to read notes?
Yes, it’s possible!
But:
You could compare this situation with real life and ask yourself: can you live without being able to read?
Ans also here the answer would be: yes, it’s possible!
But imagine that you couldn’t read. In our today’s society you would have a big handicap, because you wouldn’t be able to read anything, so no books, no information on the Internet, you wouldn’t know the price of a product in the supermarket, and so on…

So this is the same with reading music. If you’re a musician who can’t read notes, you might be able to produce some nice music, but you can’t read music of others, and you can’t write down your own music.

So if you want to learn a new piece, you’ll have to wait till someone explains you how to play it, or you have to be very skilled in playing by ear. But even if you know all that, it’s still much more quick and efficient if you could have read the music from notes in sheet music.

Is it difficult to learn music theory and how to read notes?

Some people say that they don’t want to start learning music theory and reading notes because it would be too difficult.
And actually, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Especially when it’s well explained.
When music theory is well explained and presented in small pieces, then everyone who wants can learn music theory.

And fortunately, you’ve come to the right place, since on pianotheoryexercises.com you will find a good and clear explanation of music theory and reading music for (total) beginners, and all this explained by a teacher with more than 25 years of experience.
All the lessons are completely free.
In addition, on pianotheoryexercises.com you can do interactive exercises in which you can practice the theory and reading notes.

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4

Minor scales – Natural vs harmonic vs melodic

treble clef with piano keyboard

There exists only 1 type of major scale, but there are 3 types of minor scales: natural minor, harmonic minor and melodic minor.

Why do we have 3 different minor scales?

How are the 3 types of minor scales formed?

What is the difference between harmonic and melodic minor?

How to use the different minor scales?

 

You will discover all of this here in this tutorial.

 

 

Natural minor – The C natural minor scale

I will here only briefly describe the natural minor scale, since you can have all the details of this scale in the lesson “How to form a natural minor scale“.

First of all: why is the natural minor scale named as such? This is because the natural minor scale is based on the major scale. For example:  the notes of the A natural minor scale are exactly the same as the notes of the C major scale, the A natural minor scale only starts on the A instead of on the C.

You can say that A minor is the relative minor of C major. Or, you can also say: C major is the relative major of A minor. So both scales share exactly the same notes, they only start on a different note.

Notice that A is the 6th note in the scale of C major.

In general, you can say: a natural minor scale can be found by playing the notes of a major scale starting on the 6th note of that major scale.

Or, in other words: you can find a relative minor of a major scale by going up a major 6th interval (or going down a minor 3rd  interval, the result is the same, you will arrive at the same note).

For example, to find the C natural minor scale, go a minor 3rd up from C to find its relative major scale, which is Eb major. C natural minor and Eb major have the same notes in their scales. So the C natural minor scale is:

C   D   Eb   F   G   Ab   Bb   C

(if you don’t know how to form a major scale, see my lesson “How to form a major scale“)

Below, a sound sample of the C natural minor scale:

 

Why do we need more minor scales?

Now, why only just the natural minor scale is not enough? Why do we need more than one simple minor scale?

To understand this, you have to look at the leading tone (also called leading note). A leading tone is a note that resolves to another note a semitone up (or down). In our case, the leading tone resolves to the root of the scale we’re in.

Let me illustrate this with the C major scale. Play the C major scale starting on C and go up till you reach the 7th note, the B. When you end your line on the B, it sounds as if something is missing, as if it’s not finished. You can solve this ‘problem’ by playing the next note a semitone higher than the B, which is the C (the root of our C major scale). What you did is resolving the B by playing the next note a semitone higher, the C.

The B is called a leading tone; it’s a semitone away from our resolution, the C, the root of our scale.

In all major scales, the 7th note is a semitone away from the root. So in a major scale, the 7th note is a leading tone. You can see that in the next figure where I show this with the C major scale. The ‘major scale formula’ (WWHWWWH) is the same for all major scales.

major scale formula

Now, the natural minor scale doesn’t have a leading tone since the 7th note of a natural minor scale is a whole tone away from the root; see for example the C natural minor scale (next figure): the 7th note is a Bb, a whole tone away from the root C. The ‘natural minor scale formula’ is WHWWHWW

natural minor scale formula

Since the natural minor scale has no leading tone, the harmonic minor scale was introduced.

(the next video explains more in detail what a leading tone is and how the resolution from a leading tone to the root sounds)

 

Harmonic minor – The C harmonic minor scale

The harmonic minor scale is almost equal to the natural minor scale. The only difference is the 7th note which is raised by a half tone. In that way, the ‘leading tone-problem’ is solved.

Let me illustrate this again with the C minor scale.

As we saw, C natural minor is:

C   D   Eb   F   G   Ab   Bb   C

Now, just raise the 7th note (the Bb) by a semitone to obtain C harmonic minor:

C   D   Eb   F   G   Ab   B   C

It’s as easy as that! When you want to know a harmonic minor scale: take the natural minor scale and raise the 7th note by a half tone and you’re done!

Notice the special interval between the 6th and 7th note of the harmonic minor scale: 3 semitones, which you probably recognized as a minor 3rd interval. This is quite special because till now we’ve seen only half tone and whole tone intervals between two consecutive notes of a scale.

This interval of 3 semitones gives the harmonic minor scale a very nice sounding effect. I would even say: an exotic effect.

Listen to the next sound sample of the C harmonic minor scale to hear this effect:

By the way: the 3 semitone-interval is in this case technically spoken NOT a minor 3rd interval, but an augmented 2nd interval, since we’re going from Ab to B (in C harmonic minor) and not from G# to B.

 

Look at the next figure to have an overview of the intervals between the notes of a harmonic minor scale and with the ‘harmonic minor scale formula’. You can clearly see the semitone -or half tone- interval (H) between the leading tone (the 7th note of the interval) and the root. The augmented 2nd interval is displayed as 1½ whole tones (=3 semitones).

harmonic minor scale formula

The exotic sounding augmented 2nd interval in the harmonic minor scale is however not always the wanted effect. And this is where the melodic minor scale comes into play.

 

Melodic minor – The C melodic minor scale

In order to have a minor scale with a leading tone but without an augmented 2nd interval between two consecutive scale notes, just take the harmonic minor scale and raise the 6th note of the harmonic minor scale by a semitone. The scale obtained in this way is called a melodic minor scale.

Let me illustrate this again with C minor. Take the C harmonic minor scale:

C   D   Eb   F   G   Ab   B   C

Now raise the 6th note (the Ab) by a half tone to obtain the C melodic minor scale:

C   D   Eb   F   G   A   B   C

In the next figure with the ‘melodic minor scale formula’, you can see that the melodic minor scale

  • has a leading tone
  • doesn’t have an augmented 2nd interval between two consecutive notes of the scale.

melodic minor scale formula

To find a melodic minor scale, you have 3 options:

  • Take the harmonic minor scale and raise the 6th note by a half step
  • Take the natural minor scale and raise the 6th and the 7th note both by a half step
  • Take the major scale and replace the major 3rd by a minor 3rd

Note that in classical theory the descending melodic scale is not the same as the ascending melodic scale: the ascending scale is the one you just saw here above, the descending scale is simply the natural minor scale.

In modern music (jazz), the ascending and descending melodic minor scale are the same.

To have an idea of how the melodic minor scale sounds, listen to the next sound sample:

 

The major and all the minor scales compared

In the next infographic, you can see an overview of the differences and similarities between the major scale and the natural, harmonic and melodic minor scale. At a glance, you can see the intervals between the notes of the scale (1, 2 or 3 semitones).

The examples are based on the scales with C as a root note, but this infographic applies of course to major and minor scales in all roots.

major minor infographic

 

When are the harmonic and melodic minor scales used?

Let me first show you how the harmonic minor scale could be used in a melody or in a solo.

Imagine playing a piece in the key of C minor. You would then normally (but not exclusively) play a melody or a solo with the notes of the C natural minor scale.

Now, let’s assume that the piece contains a G7 chord. The G7 chord consists of the notes G, B, D and F.

When you would continue to play in C natural minor over the G7 chord, the Bb in C natural minor could conflict with the B in the G7. So that’s where you could play C harmonic minor instead of C natural minor.

There are plenty of similar cases of when to use the harmonic minor scale; this is just one example.

 

So, what about the melodic minor scale?

The melodic minor scale forms the basis of melodic minor harmony on which are based a lot of scales often used in jazz (altered scale, half diminished scale …). So when a jazz musician improvises over a scale derived from melodic minor harmony, he will play notes from the melodic minor scale.

 

 

If you liked this lesson, or if you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below.

 

 

 

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1

How to choose the best piano keyboard – Top 9 digital pianos

So, you’re looking for a new piano. Perhaps you’re just starting to play the piano and are looking for your first keyboard. Or you are already playing for a while and you want to upgrade your piano. Whether you are a beginner, an intermediate player or even an advanced or professional player, it’s not always easy to decide which piano or keyboard to acquire. This article will help to find the best piano or keyboard for you.

Acoustic piano or electronic keyboard?

acoustic vs digital

The first question is: do you need an acoustic piano or an electronic keyboard?

To be able to answer this question, you should take in consideration the advantages and disadvantages of both options. But a short answer could be: go for an acoustic piano if:

  1. you have the money to buy an acoustic piano
  2. you have enough place (especially for a grand piano)
  3. it doesn’t disturb neighbors or others in your house.
  4. you don’t need any other sounds than only one piano sound
  5. you don’t need it for gigs

Why an acoustic piano? That’s because the feeling of the keys and the sound are that of a real piano.

But there are many reasons why you would prefer an electronic keyboard:

  1. you need a stage piano for gigs
  2. other sounds are needed than only the piano sound
  3. you want to play with headphones (or to be able to play at low and high volumes)
  4. you are a beginning piano player
  5. you want to connect the piano to the computer (for example for composing songs on digital audio workstation (DAW) software)
  6. there is not enough place for an acoustic piano
  7. it’s a hassle (and it’s expensive) of having to tune the piano twice a year
  8. a digital piano is less expensive

Nowadays, good digital pianos have piano sounds and a feeling that come very close to that of a real piano, which means that the choice for a digital piano instead of an acoustic piano is a legitimate one.

If the money is the only issue, you could consider to buy a second hand piano. But keep in mind that an acoustic piano has to be tuned once or twice a year, which can be quite expensive too.

If you want to buy a new acoustic piano, go to your local piano or music store, the people there will be glad to advice you in your choice.

If you are more interested in an electronic keyboard, you will find all the necessary information in this article that will help you to decide which model to choose.

The following table will also help you to make a decision whether to buy an acoustic piano or an electronic keyboard:

Advantages Disadvantages
Acoustic piano –          It has the only real piano sound

–          It has the only real piano feeling

–          Expensive

–          Big and heavy

–          Not possible to play quietly (no headphones possible)

–          Has to be tuned 1-2 times per year

Electronic keyboard –          Less expensive

–          Easy to transport

–          Lots of sounds (not only piano sounds)

–          Doesn’t have to be tuned

–          You can play at every desired volume

–          Possible to play with headphones

–          You can connect it to a computer

–          Not exactly the real sound of an acoustic piano

–          Not exactly the same feeling as an acoustic piano

How do electronic keyboards imitate a real piano feeling?

In an acoustic piano, a hammer strikes one, two or three strings. The hammer is connected by a lever system to the key. This causes a resistance when playing the key and this is the typical ‘piano feeling’.

Cheap keyboards and most synthesizers don’t imitate the real piano feeling: when playing the keys on such a keyboard, you don’t feel any resistance like you would feel when you play on an acoustic piano.

Better keyboards have weighted keys to simulate this ‘piano feeling’. There are several types of weighted keyboards:

  • Semi-weighted keyboards (this is simplest and cheapest solution)

Here, a spring is attached to the key to give it some resistance when playing.

  • Hammer action keys

Here, the resistance comes from a small hammer connected to the key by a lever system, replicating the mechanism found in acoustic pianos.

  • Graded hammer action keys (this is the best, but most expensive solution)

The same system as in ‘hammer action keys’ is used, but now more resistance is encountered when playing lower keys and less when playing higher keys, like in acoustic pianos.

For a (beginning) piano player, it is important to have at least a keyboard with piano feeling. So a semi-weighted keyboard is the absolute minimum. Better is, of course a keyboard with hammer action.

Other functionalities in electronic keyboards that imitate acoustic pianos are velocity sensitivityA keyboard with velocity sensitive keys responds to the speed of the key-press. A higher speed results in a louder note. This imitates the acoustic piano where the speed of the key-press determines how fast the hammer hits the strings which changes the volume of the sound. Apart from very cheap toy pianos, practically all the modern electronic keyboards are velocity sensitive. and aftertouchMost electronic keyboards respond to the pressure applied after hitting the key. This is called aftertouch. Aftertouch is often used to control vibrato, volume or other parameters..

The number of keys on a keyboard

An acoustic piano has 88 keys. Digital pianos try to copy their acoustic equivalents and have therefore also mostly 88 keys, but other types of electronic keyboards don’t necessarily always have 88 keys. There exist keyboards with 49 keys, 61 keys, 73 keys, 76 keys and of course 88 keys. As a piano player, I would recommend an absolute minimum of 73 keys, but personally I would go for an 88-key keyboard, unless you have to transport it often (for example for gigs). When you perform often on stage, the weight of an 88-key piano might be an obstacle, so in this case you could opt for 76 or 73 keys.

88 keys 76 keys 61 keys

What types of electronic keyboards exist?

We can distinguish 4 main categories of keyboard-types:

  • Digital pianos
  • Synthesizers
  • Workstations/arrangers
  • MIDI keyboards

For piano players, the first category (digital pianos) is the one that really interests us, so the types of keyboards that I will review below will all be in that category. I will however also explain the other keyboard-types so that you will have a good understanding of all the available electronic keyboards on the market.

Digital pianos

For a piano player, this is without doubt the most obvious choice.

Digital pianos offer a variety of piano sounds and also other sounds like organs, harpsichords, strings and (vintage) electric pianos (like the Fender Rhodes, for example). Compared to other keyboard-types, the number of different sounds is perhaps limited (synthesizers have many more sounds than the above-mentioned sounds found in digital pianos), but the sounds on a digital piano are usually of better quality in order to mimic a real piano. Also, the feeling of the keys (weighted keys) is more that of a real piano (synthesizers very often don’t have weighted keys).

We distinguish two different types of digital pianos:

  • Console pianos
  • Stage pianos

A digital console piano is an upright or vertical piano that is built on a wooden frame so that it looks like a real upright piano. It usually also has pedals integrated.

The sound comes out of built-in speakers. It is also possible to connect head-phones so that you can play without disturbing your neighborhood. Often, a direct output is provided to connect the piano to an external amplifier when playing on stage.

For home use, a console piano is an ideal choice.

A stage piano generally offers the same sounds as a console piano. A stage piano, as its name suggests, is for use on stage. This means that portability is of great importance and that is exactly what makes the difference with console pianos: stage pianos don’t have a wooden frame. A stage piano therefore has to be placed on a keyboard stand (or eventually on a table).

Pedals are not integrated, but it is possible to connect pedals to the stage piano. Often (but not always), a sustain pedal is included with a stage piano.

Stage pianos can have built-in speakers, but especially the more high-end stage pianos don’t have built-in speakers and need to be connected to an amplifier with speakers, or simply to head-phones.

Below, you will find the top-9 digital piano reviews. The 9 pianos are divided in 3 price ranges:

  1. Up to or around 600 $
  2. From 600 $ up to or around 1700 $
  3. From 1700 $ or more

When you are a beginning piano player, you would typically go for the first price range. Advanced and professional players are better of in the last price range. When you already play for a while, but you’re still playing on a beginners keyboard and you’re looking for an upgrade, the middle price range is perhaps where you would search for a new piano.

Since some digital pianos (especially those in the higher price range) don’t have built-in speakers, I will also make some recommendations for powered speakers (studio monitors) that you can use with your digital piano.

Top 9 digital pianos 2017

1st price range: up to or around 600 $

The Yamaha P45

Yamaha P45The Yamaha P45 is a very good keyboard for beginning piano players. The piano has 10 preset sounds: 2 grand pianos, 2 electronic pianos, 2 organs, strings, 2 harpsichords and a vibraphone. The MIDIMIDI (Music Instrument Digital Interface) is a protocol for the communication of sound information between a sending device (for example a MIDI keyboard) and a device that receives the information and produces sound (for example a sound module). The information doesn’t contain the actual sound, but information of which note is played, how long it is played, which instrument is played, and so on. functionality of the P45 is available through a USB connection, which allows you to connect the P45 to a computer.

The polyphony of the P45 is 64 voices.

The P45 has 88 weighted keys with graded hammer action that has a heavier touch in the low keys and a lighter touch in the high keys which mimics the feel of a real piano.

The dual mode function lets you combine two sounds together; it’s for example possible to combine a piano with strings.

The duo mode function splits the keyboard in two parts which allows two people to play at the same time. This is very useful for piano lessons with a teacher.

The P45 comes with 2 integrated 6W speakers and has a weight of 11.5 kg (25 lbs).

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The Yamaha P125

Yamaha P115

The Yamaha P125 is Yamaha’s best digital piano in this price range. And it’s for that reason that the P125 is one of the most popular digital pianos on the market.

It’s a bit more expensive than the P45, but the extra cost is worth it every cent.

The P125 has 24 preset sounds.

The MIDI functionality of the P125 is, like that of the P45, available through a USB connection.

The P125 has the same 88 weighted keys with graded hammer action as the P45. The polyphony is better than that of the P45: 192 voices instead of only 64 in the P45 (which is 3 times as many!).

As the P45, it has the dual mode and duo mode functions (see the Yamaha P45 for explanation).

The P125 has the possibility to connect external (powered) speakers to its AUX outputs.

An extra feature, not available in the P45, is the ‘sound boost’-feature. When playing together with other instruments, you can give the piano an extra ‘boost’ so that it is better audible and the piano doesn’t get lost in the overall band sound, which is a great option for live performances.

Another option that is not available on the P45 is the ability of the P125 to record what you’re playing. This is especially useful when learning to play the piano.

The P125 has 4 integrated 7W speakers and it has a weight of 11.8 kg (26 lbs.).

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The Casio PX-S1000

Casio PX160

Another great digital piano for beginners is the Casio PX-S1000.

The PX-S1000 has 18 different preset sounds including grand piano, jazz piano, bright piano and orchestra.

It has 88 weighted keys and a polyphony of 192.

The PX-S1000 also has the possibility to produce 2 sounds (like for example piano and strings) simultaneously, like the dual mode in the Yamaha digital pianos.

The duet mode in the PX-S1000 is comparable to the duo mode in Yamaha pianos: you can split the piano in 2 parts which enables you to play with 2 persons at the same time.

The Casio PX-S1000 also offers the possibility to record yourself.

The Casio can be connected with the computer with a USB MIDI connection.

The PX-S1000 has 2 integrated speakers and a weight of 11.2 kg (24.7 lbs).

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The Yamaha P45, Yamaha P115 and Casio PX160 compared:

Yamaha P45 Yamaha P125 Casio PX-S1000
Height 15.4 cm/6.0 inches 16.6 cm/6.3 inches 10.2 cm/3.9 inches
Width 132.6 cm/52.2 inches 132.6 cm/52.2 inches 132.2 cm/52 inches
Depth 29.5 cm/11.6 inches 29.5 cm/11.6 inches 23.3 cm/9.1 inches
Weight 11.5 kg/25.3 lbs 11.8 kg/26 lbs 11.2 kg/24.3 lbs
Equalizer No Yes No
USB port(s) Yes Yes Yes
Headphone jack Yes Yes Yes
Number of keys 88 88 88
Integrated speaker(s) Yes Yes Yes
Metronome Yes Yes Yes
Recording feature No Yes Yes
Number of sounds 10 24 18
Velocity sensitivity Yes Yes Yes
Polyphony 64 voices 192 voices 192 voices
Weighted keys Yes Yes Yes
Number of headphone jacks 1 2 2

2nd price range: from 600 $ up to or around 1700 $

The Casio PX870

Casio PX860

The digital pianos in this price range definitively sound much better than those in the previous price range. This becomes clear when comparing the Casio PX870 piano sound to the Casio PX-S1000 piano sound. The PX870 sounds so much more like a real piano than the PX-S1000 does; the sound has more depth and in the same time also more clarity. The PX870 also has a much bigger dynamic range (= the difference between playing loud and playing softly).

For a beginning piano player, this piano might perhaps go over budget, but an intermediate to advanced player will for sure appreciate its sounds and features.

The PX870 has 19 preset sounds: grand pianos, electronic pianos, harpsichord, strings, organs and a bass.

A hall simulation feature simulates the sound as if you were playing in a big concert hall.

The piano has 88 weighted keys and a polyphony of 256 voices!

The built-in recorder lets you record and playback your performances. With the USB connector, you can connect the PX870 to a computer.

Like the PX-S1000, it offers the duet mode that splits the piano in 2 parts, which enables you to play with another person (teacher).

The PX870 has 4 built-in powerful speakers that allow you to play at a high volume without affecting the sound quality. It is also possible to connect external (powered) speakers to the line output.

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The Korg SV2

Korg SV1

The Korg SV2 is an absolute fantastic piano when it comes to sound quality, design, and number of preset sounds. The futuristic, cool look of this piano makes that it has a unique design. The SV2 has 72 preset sounds (which is a lot more than its competitors in this price range), distributed over 6 different sound banks with 2 sets with each 6 sounds.

The 6 sound banks are:

  • Electric piano 1 (Vintage)
  • Electric piano 2 (Various)
  • Piano 1 (Acoustic)
  • Piano 2 (Various)
  • Clavier (Harpsichords, organs, …)
  • Other (strings, choir, brass)

Connections with the computer can be made with either a USB connection or with the MIDI IN/OUT connectors.

The 88 weighted keys together with the very good sound quality make the SV2 feel like a real piano. Note that there exists also a 73-key version, which might be an option for those who take the piano often to gigs.

With the Korg SV2, you can fine tune each sound with the built-in equalizer and by selecting the various effects and amp models.

The SV2 comes in 2 different models: the SV2 without built-in speakers (so you will need external (powered) speakers, or use headphones), and the SV2S which has built-in speakers.

So, this actually makes that there are 4 different SV2’s:

  • The SV2 (without speakers) 88 key version
  • The SV2 (without speakers) 73 key version (also called SV-273)
  • The SV2S (with speakers) 88 key version (also called SV-288S)
  • The SV2S (with speakers) 73 key version (also called SV-273S)

Since this piano is really a high quality piano, it comes not only with the standard jack outputs, but also with balanced XLR outputs for much better signal transmission.

The weight of the Korg SV2 is:

  • SV2: 20.35 kg / 44.86 lbs
  • SV-273: 17.2 kg / 37.92 lbs
  • SV-288S: 21.45 kg / 47.29 lbs
  • SV-273S: 18.3 kg / 40.34 lbs

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The Yamaha YDP144

Yamaha YDP143

The last digital piano in this price range is the Yamaha YDP144 which has 10 preset sounds to offer: grand pianos, electronic pianos, harpsichord, vibraphone, organs and strings.

The YDP144 has 88 weighted keys; its polyphony is 192 voices. The effect section includes reverb, chorus, delay and an equalizer.

It has a built-in recorder to record and playback and a USB connection so you can connect it to a computer with Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software.

Like a real piano, the Yamaha YDP144 has a heavier touch in the lower region and a lighter touch in the higher region.

The duo mode function splits the keyboard into two equal parts so that two people can play at the same time (very good for playing together with a teacher). The dual mode lets you layer 2 voices together (like piano and strings, for example).

The YDP144 has 2 speakers. Its weight is 38 kg /84 lbs.

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The Casio PX860, Korg SV1 and Yamaha YDP143 compared:

Casio PX870 Korg SV2* Yamaha YDP144
Height 83.7 cm/33 inches 15.7 cm/6.2 inches 81.5 cm/32.1 inches
Width 136.7 cm/53.8 inches 135.6 cm/53.4 inches 135.7 cm/53.4 inches
Depth 29.9 cm/11.8 inches 34.7 cm/13.7 inches 42.2 cm/16.6 inches
Weight 35.5 kg/78.3 lbs 20.35 kg/44.9 lbs 38.0 kg/83 lbs
USB port(s) Yes Yes Yes
Headphone jack Yes Yes Yes
Number of keys 88 88 88
Integrated speaker(s) Yes only on “S”-models Yes
Metronome Yes No Yes
Recording feature Yes No Yes
Number of sounds 18 72 10
Velocity sensitivity Yes Yes Yes
Polyphony 256 voices 128 voices 192 voices
Weighted keys Yes Yes Yes
Number of headphone jacks 1 1 2

*: SV2 88 keys

 

3rd price range: from 1700 $

The Roland RD2000

Roland RD800

With the Roland RD2000 we’re getting into the highest price range. The pianos in this price range are really meant for the more advanced and for the professional piano players. The sounds that come with this kind of keyboards are of professional quality, and the number of sounds is by far superior with normally at least a few hundred different sounds.

The RD2000 has more than 1100 preset sounds among which different piano sounds, different electric piano sounds, organ sounds, a wide range of vintage keyboard sounds, many synth sounds and more and you can even download more sounds from Roland’s website.

A big amount of controls lets you shape each individual sound. All custom settings can be stored for instant recall during performances.

Included in the RD2000 is a comprehensive effect section with equalizer, reverb, delay, tremolo and amp simulator, a rotary effect for the organ sounds and more.

The Roland RD2000 has 88 weighted keys and a polyphony of 128 voices.

Computer connections can be made with either the USB port or with MIDI IN/OUT connectors.

The RD2000 doesn’t have built-in speakers, so you will need external (powered) speakers, or use headphones.

Like the Korg SV2, it has standard jack outputs and also XLR balanced outputs for better signal transmission.

The Roland RD2000 has a weight of 21.7 kg (47.7 lb).

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The Nord Electro 6

Nord electro 5 HP

The Nord Electro 6 is a truly amazing instrument with the most beautiful piano and organ sounds. It includes 3 instrument sections (piano, organ and sample synth) and an effect section (tremolo, wah, phaser, flanger, chorus, reverb, delay, equalizer, amp simulations and more).

With the MIDI IN/OUT or the USB connections you can connect the Nord Electro 6 to a computer (for example to use it with Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software).

The Nord Electro 6 comes in 3 model versions:

– the Nord Electro 6 HP (73 keys weighted hammer action, 11.4 kg (25.1 lb))

– the Nord Electro 6 D 73 (73 keys semi-weighted, 9.2 kg (20.3 lb))

– the Nord Electro 6 D 61 (61 keys semi-weighted, 8.1 kg (17.9 lb))

The polyphony of the Electro 6 is 120 (piano section).

The piano section

The piano library has a memory of 1 GB and offers a wide choice of piano and harpsichord sounds. It’s also possible to download more sounds from the manufacturer’s website.

The organ section

The organ section contains simulations of among others the Farfisa, the Vox and principle pipe organs and includes rotary speaker simulation.

The sample synth section

The sample synth section contains a broad selection of free samples, like the Mellotron.

The included Nord Sample Editor makes it possible to add any sound you want.

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The Nord stage 3

Nord stage 3This is definitely one of the best digital stage pianos on the market. It includes 3 instrument sections (piano, organ and synths) and an effect section (reverb, delay, compressor…) with morphable parameters. The effect section enables you to customize the preset sounds.

With the MIDI IN/OUT or the USB connections you can connect the Nord Stage 3 to a computer (for example to use it with Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software).

In comparison with its predecessor (the Nord Stage 2), the Stage 3 comes with:

– 2 GB of memory for the piano library (instead of 1 GB in the Nord Stage 2)

– seamless transitions when changing programs/sounds, convenient for live situations

–  120 voice polyphony (60 for the Nord Stage 2)

There are 3 model versions for the Nord Stage 3:

– the Nord Stage 3 88 (88 keys weighted hammer action, 19 kg (41.8 lb))

– the Nord Stage 3 HP76 (76 keys hammer action, 12,5 kg (27.5 lb))

– the Nord Stage 3 Compact (73 keys semi-weighted, 10 kg (22 lb))

The piano section

The piano library is huge (2 GB) and offers such a wide choice of preset sounds (like Steinway grand pianos, the Wurlitzer, the Fender Rhodes and more), that you would probably not often want to add or replace sounds of the library (it is possible to download more sounds from the manufacturer’s website).

The organ section

The Nord Stage 3 gives you the Hammond B3 tone wheel simulation, rotary speaker simulation and simulations of pipe organs, the Vox Continental and Farfisa Compact.

The Nord Stage 3 HA88 and HP76 have LED drawbars for the organ section, whilst the Nord Stage 3 Compact offers real physical drawbars to adjust your organ sounds.

The synth section

The Nord Stage 3’s new Oscillator section features 5 oscillator categories: Classic, Wave, Formant, Sample and brand new Super Wave (S-wave).

The sampler gives you the possibility to play pre-recorded sounds. You can also download samples from the manufacturer’s website (or other websites), and it is even possible to load your own samples when you install special software on your computer.

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The Roland RD2000, Nord Electro 6 and Nord Stage 3 compared:

Roland RD2000 Nord Electro 6 Nord Stage 3
Height 14 cm/5.5 inches 12.1 cm/4.8 inches* 11.8 cm/4.7 inches**
Width 141.2 cm/55.5 inches 107.4 cm/42.3 inches* 128.7 cm/50.7 inches**
Depth 36.7 cm/14.2 inches 34.4 cm/13.5 inches* 33.4 cm/13 inches**
Weight 21.7 kg/47.7 lbs 11.4 kg/25.1 lbs* 19 kg/41.8 lbs**
USB port(s) Yes Yes Yes
Headphone jack Yes Yes Yes
Number of keys 88 73* 88**
Integrated speaker(s) No No No
Number of sounds 1100+ Hundreds*** Hundreds***
Velocity sensitivity Yes Yes Yes
Polyphony 128 voices 120 voices 120 voices
Weighted keys Yes Yes* Yes**

*: the Nord Electro 6 HP

**: the Nord Stage 3 88

***: more sounds downloadable from manufacturer’s website

Powered speakers (studio monitors)

If you buy a digital piano without built-in speakers, you will need external speakers with amplification (unless you only want to play with headphones on). For home use you could use studio monitors, which are speakers with built-in amplification that are normally used in recording studios.

Note that these monitors will not give you enough volume for playing gigs, they are for home use.

I made a choice of two good and affordable studio monitors that are perfect for a digital piano:

The powered speakers I recommend below are monitors for a (home) recording studio, but can be very well used for your digital piano. Both monitors offer a good sound and don’t cost very much.

PRESONUS ERIS E4.5

Affordable, solidly constructed monitors with good sound.

The left speaker acts as power amp for both speakers.

2 x 25 W class AB amplification

70 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response

100 dB max peak SPL

Inputs:

  • Unbalanced Stereo mini jack 3.5 mm
  • Unbalanced RCA
  • Balanced ¼” TRS

Dimensions: 7.09” (180mm) x 6.42” (163mm) x 9.49” (241mm)

Weight: 13 lbs (5.9 kg)

PreSonus Eris E45

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KRK RP5 G4

A bit more expensive than the PreSonus, but with better sound quality.

Each speaker has its own built-in power amp.

2 x 55 W class AB amplification

45 Hz – 40 kHz frequency response

104 dB max peak SPL

Inputs:

  • Balanced ¼” TRS
  • Balanced XLR

Dimensions: 9.84″ (258mm) x 7.48″ (190mm) x 9.45″ (241mm)

Weight : 8.8 lbs (4.9 kg)

KRK RP5G3

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Synthesizers

Synthesizers are electronic musical instruments that generate electrical signals which are used to produce their own sounds. Back in the early days, the synthesizers were only analogic. The sounds were produced by combining the outputs of several analogic oscillators into the final sound.

In this way, new sounds were created that were totally different from the sounds produced by original musical instruments like a piano, an organ, or whatever other acoustic instrument.

Today, digital synthesizers emulate the old analog synthesizers with great precision. In addition, they often provide pre-recorded sounds (samples) like pianos, organs, strings and more.

Synthesizers are most often played on the piano keyboard that is integrated with the synthesizer itself, but it is also possible to connect them via MIDI or USB to an external controller like music sequencers, wind controllers, electronic drums, guitar synthesizers and much more.

It is even possible to have a digital synthesizer without a keyboard, in the form of a sound module. In this case you need of course an external controller like a MIDI keyboard or one of the other controllers mentioned above.

Synthesizers are certainly not the first choice when it comes to learning how to play the piano. This is more for people that like to experiment with different sounds, and use their own created sounds in a band or in a home studio for example.

Workstations/Arrangers

A workstation is a synthesizer with a lot of on-board sounds, combined with a sequencer. You could see a workstation as a complete recording studio built in a synthesizer. With a workstation, it is possible with its built-in sequencer to create a whole band: you write the drums-, the bass-, the guitar- and the piano-part; the workstation will play all the instruments together and you hear your own creation played by a whole band.

It is even possible to record audio over it, so you can add voice, acoustic instruments, etcetera.

Workstations normally have an internal hard disk to record your productions and often also a CD burner to burn your work directly to a CD.

A workstation can be used for composing, recording and producing music.

Note that you can do exactly the same thing by connecting a normal synthesizer, digital piano or MIDI keyboard to a computer with a MIDI or USB connection. With this setup, together with sequencing software (the so-called DAW software, or Digital Audio Workstation software) installed on the computer, you have the same functionality as with a workstation.

An arranger is a sort of workstation that creates a whole band for you. You enter your chord progression and a style (rock, jazz …); the arranger then plays a whole band in the selected style with your chord progression and you can play over it. This is ideal for one-man bands that need the sound of an entire band.

MIDI keyboards

MIDI keyboards don’t produce any sound at all. They’re used to trigger sound producing devices such as synthesizers, digital pianos, workstations, computers with software synthesizers and/or sequencing software (DAW software) and sound modules that don’t have a keyboard integrated.

The data transfer from the MIDI keyboard to the sound producing device is established by a MIDI or USB connection.

When you have a good sound module, or if you want to use a software synthesizer, a MIDI keyboard is a very good option.

Better MIDI keyboards also have weighted keys (semi-weighted, hammer action or graded hammer action).

Note that most digital pianos, synthesizers and workstations can also act as a MIDI keyboard. In that case, you wouldn’t use the built-in sounds of your keyboard, but an external source like a sound module, a software synthesizer or another keyboard.

Accessories

bench

Choose a piano bench of good quality and adjustable in height.

sustain pedal (also: damper pedal)

When the sustain pedal is pressed, every note played on the piano will continue to sound till the note naturally fades out (by the way: some sounds, like organ sounds don’t fade out naturally) or till the sustain pedal is released.

metronome

A metronome produces a beat at regular time intervals. The beat is set in beats per minute (bpm).

A metronome is needed to practice: it keeps your rhythm steady; it avoids speeding up or slowing down the music.

Nowadays, metronomes are small digital devices that produce electronic beeps or clicks. They are not very expensive, but to be honest, you can even have them for free: just download a free metronome on your smart phone and you’re ready to go!

Headphones

With headphones, you can even play the piano in the middle of the night without disturbing others.

music stand

You will need a stand to put your music sheets on. Some keyboards have them integrated. When not, don’t worry, they’re really not that expensive.

keyboard stand

You can put your keyboard on a table of course, but it’s not very probable that the table will have exactly the perfect height. It’s better to have a keyboard stand. Keyboard stands come in all colors and sizes and are usually not very expensive.

Glossary

Aftertouch

Most electronic keyboards respond to the pressure applied after hitting the key. This is called aftertouch. Aftertouch is often used to control vibrato, volume or other parameters.

MIDI

MIDI (Music Instrument Digital Interface) is a protocol for the communication of sound information between a sending device (for example a MIDI keyboard) and a device that receives the information and produces sound (for example a sound module). The information doesn’t contain the actual sound, but information of which note is played, how long it is played, which instrument is played, and so on.

Multitimbrality

Multitimbrality is the ability of a keyboard or sound module to play different instruments simultaneously, which enables you to play a whole band. When for example a keyboard or sound module is 16 part multitimbral, this means that it can handle 16 different instruments simultaneously (over 16 different MIDI channels).

Polyphony

Polyphony refers to the maximum number of notes that a keyboard or sound module can produce at one time. When using the 10 fingers on your both hands, you would expect that 10-note polyphony would be sufficient. But when you use the sustain pedal, you quickly need more than 10 notes at the same time. When playing several instruments together with a sequencer, notes can also quickly add up. Modern keyboards can have a polyphony of 128, 192 or even 256 notes.

Sequencer

A sequencer is a programmable device that can play sequences of notes, chords and rhythms that can be transmitted via MIDI signals to a keyboard or sound module. A sequencer can be a hardware device, but also a software program.

Velocity sensitivity

A keyboard with velocity sensitive keys responds to the speed of the key-press. A higher speed results in a louder note. This imitates the acoustic piano where the speed of the key-press determines how fast the hammer hits the strings which changes the volume of the sound. Apart from very cheap toy pianos, practically all the modern electronic keyboards are velocity sensitive.

Did you find the information you were looking for? Do you have a better idea of what the best piano for you is? Please let us know and leave a comment below.

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Learn to play piano in 10 steps

You always wanted to learn to play piano? This is your chance! In this 10 step-tutorial you will learn the basics of piano playing and reading music and you will play your first song.

Step 1: Obtain a piano

If you want to learn to play piano, you need, well…a piano!

When this seems obvious, it’s perhaps less obvious what kind of piano to choose (if you don’t already have one).

The first question that may arise is: what is better, an acoustic piano or an electronic keyboard?

In this context, it’s important to realize that a lot of electronic keyboards (especially the cheaper ones) don’t have a real ‘piano feeling’.

What I mean is the following: in a piano, a hammer strikes one, two or three strings. The hammer is connected by a lever system to the key. This causes a resistance when playing the key, and this is the ‘piano feeling’.

In better keyboards, this ‘piano feeling’ is simulated. There are several techniques to simulate this:

  • Semi-weighted keyboards (this is the most simple and cheapest solution)
  • Hammer action keys
  • Graded hammer action keys (this is the best, but most expensive solution)

To learn the piano, it’s not a good idea to buy an electronic keyboard that is not weighted, as it misses this feeling of a real piano.

So, to conclude: to learn to play the piano, acquire either an acoustic piano, or an electronic keyboard that is at least semi-weighted, but better is a keyboard with hammer action.

In my article “How to choose the best piano keyboard 2017 – Top 9 digital pianos” you can find much more information and tips for when you are looking for a suitable piano.

Apart from a piano, you will need two more things:

  • A bench, adjustable in height
  • A metronome

 

Step 2: The correct posture

When sitting in front of the piano, your arms should be horizontal (your elbow should be at the same height as the keyboard, or eventually a little bit higher). To achieve this, adjust the height of the bench. Your back should be straight. Place your knees slightly under the keyboard and keep your feet flat on the ground near or on the pedals.

And, most important: relax! Relax your muscles, relax your body and your shoulders.

 

Step 3: The correct hand position

Never hold your hand and fingers flat. Your hands and fingers should be curved as if you would hold a tennis ball.

Hold your hands as in the next figure:

Correct hand position

So, never hold your hands as follows:

Wrong hand position

 

Step 4: Learn the numbers of your fingers

It is important to use the right finger positions in order to be able to link the consecutive notes in a melody nicely together. Both hands use the same finger numbering: the thumb is finger number 1, the index finger is number 2, the middle finger is number 3, the ring finger number 4 and the little finger is finger number 5.

Finger numbers

From now on, I will use only the finger numbers and not any more the finger names. So, I will not anymore say: “Play this key with the index finger”, but: “Play this key with finger number 2”.

 

Step 5: Learn how to use the metronome

A good habit is to use the metronome when practicing the piano. With a metronome, you keep a steady rhythm without speeding up or slowing down the notes of the exercise.

Start to put the metronome on a (very) slow tempo, for example 60 beats per minute. If this is still too quick, simply slow it down even more, till you master the exercise at that speed. Once mastered, speed it up: set the metronome on a higher tempo and redo the exercise. You master it at the higher tempo? Speed it up even more, till you master it at the wanted speed.

A bad habit is to want to play a melody, a song, or an exercise directly at a high speed, because you will make mistakes. A lot of people start at a high speed and think that if they will play it again and again (at this high speed), they will master it at a certain moment. Don’t make this mistake: start slowly, and when you’re able to play it well, then speed things up.

Another thing: in most songs, you can count 1-2-3-4   1-2-3-4   1-2-3-4 and so on. When doing your exercise, melody or song, first put the metronome on and count with the metronome 1-2-3-4 and then start to play on the next 1.

 

Step 6: Get to know the piano keys

When you look at a piano keyboard, you see black and white keys. When you look a bit closer, you can see that there is a pattern in the piano keys. You can see that the best by looking at the black keys: you will see groups of two black keys and groups of three black keys.

Keyboard 2 and 3 black keys

Now look at a group of 2 black keys (it doesn’t matter which one). The white key at the left side of a group of 2 black keys is called the C. When you play a note on a C key, you hear the note C. You can see that there’s not only one C on the keyboard: every time you have a group of 2 black keys, the white key just at the left side is a C.

C on the keyboard

Let me go on by naming the other keys.

From the C key, we can go on with the white key just at the right side of the C. Take the next letter in the alphabet, which is the D. Keep going on in alphabetical order till you reach the letter G. We have now named the following white keys:

Keyboard C to G

For the last 2 white keys, at the left side of the C, we go down alphabetically. This gives us the B and the A:

Keyboard all white keys

Let’s have a look again at the C’s. Of all the C’s, there’s one C that we call the middle C. The middle C is typically the note that divides the piano keyboard in two parts: a lower part at the left side of the middle C and an upper part at the right side of the middle C.

Usually, you play the upper part with the right hand and the lower part with the left hand, although you can play notes lower than middle C with the right hand and notes higher than middle C with the left hand. For more information on the middle C, see the lesson “The middle C on a piano keyboard”.

So we now know the names of all the white keys. What about the black keys? Well, we don’t need them for now. But if you are interested: in my lesson “The note names and how to find the notes on a piano keyboard”, you can find also the black key names and more information about note names.
For two great exercises to quickly learn the keys of the piano, go to the following links:
Which note is played on the piano?
Place the note on the right key of the piano

 

Step 7: Learn the notes on the staff

Musical notes are written on a set of 5 horizontal lines which we call the staff:

staff

There is one staff for the right hand and one for the left hand. To indicate which one we’re dealing with, we put a symbol in the beginning of the staff: a treble clef for the right hand and a bass clef for the left hand.

Treble and bass clef

For now, we will only look at the treble clef. For more information, look at my lessons about the treble clef and about the bass clef.

As mentioned before, the treble clef is for the right hand and is therefore meant for the higher notes. The higher notes are the notes from middle C and higher, although it is possible to use the treble clef also for notes lower than middle C.

In the staff below, you can see how to display notes on a staff with a treble clef:

Try to memorize those notes as it will help you to quickly read notes. A handy trick to memorize the treble clef notes is the following: the notes that go in between the lines make the word FACE:

Face notes on treble clef

I have a great (interactive) exercise for you to quickly learn the notes of the treble clef:

Place the note on the treble clef on the piano keyboard

 

Step 8: Learn about note lengths and measures

Notes can be played short or long. Note lengths are measured in number of beats. A note can have a length of 1 beat, 2 beats, 3 beats, 4 beats, or also fractions of a beat.

A note that has a length of exactly one beat is written as follows:

Quarter note

We call a note with a length of 1 beat a quarter note.

A note with a length of 2 beats is a half note and you write it like this:

A note with a length of 4 beats is a whole note and you write it as follows:

OK, let me show you first a simple melody with quarter notes, half notes and whole notes:

Melody 1 with finger position

In the next short video, you will see how to play this on the piano. For the finger positions, refer to the image above. You will hear the click of the metronome count to 4 before the melody starts.

To train yourself in note lengths, you could do the exercise “Whole note, half note, quarter note”.

Remember that I told you before that in most songs you can count 1-2-3-4  1-2-3-4  1-2-3-4 and so on? We call every ‘1-2-3-4’ a measure (also called a bar). In the staff above, you have two measures of each 4 beats. In the staff, we divide measures by vertical lines. So the notes in the staff above can then be written as:

Melody 1 with beats

The red arrows show each beat. You see there are 4 beats per measure. The half note, the first C, takes 2 beats. The 2 quarter notes, the E and the G, each 1 beat. And the whole note, the last C, takes 4 beats, the whole measure. And now you also understand why we call a whole note a whole note: since it fills exactly one whole measure. A half note fills half of a measure and a quarter note a quarter measure. You can have up to 4 quarter notes in one measure.

We call a song that has 4 quarter notes in a measure a song in 4 quarter time. As this is most common, we also call this common time. An example of music that is not in common time is a waltz. A waltz has 3 counts per measure.

In the beginning of the staff, just after the (treble) clef, we write the next symbol for a song in 4 quarter time:4 quarter time

And since it is so common, we also often use the next symbol:

Common time

For more information about beats and measures, see the lesson “Measures (or bars) – Time signature”.

 

Step 9: Get the feeling of playing notes on the piano

OK, now you know how to locate the keys on the piano keyboard and how to read them in the staff, let’s start to play.

I will show you how to play in the next video. I you prefer to read the exercise then just skip the video and keep on reading.

It’s important to link the consecutive notes together so that you don’t hear a ‘gap’ between the notes. We will start on the middle C.

So, first play the note C with finger 1 (your thumb). Let it sound for about a second and then play the D with finger 2. Try to link the notes together so that you don’t hear a silence between both notes. On the other hand, you may not overlap the notes, so you may not hear two notes at the same time. This is not very difficult, but when you do it for the first time, you’ll have to practice that a few times.

When you’re able to link the notes nicely together, play the note sequence in the staff of the next figure, so the notes: C  D  E  F  G. Place finger 1 (the thumb) on the C, finger 2 on D, finger 3 on E, finger 4 on F and finger 5 on G.

Music exercise 1

You can first try to play 1 or 2 times without the metronome. After that, put the metronome on a slow tempo (for example 60 beats per minute). Let the metronome count 4 beats, and then start to play the sequence. Every time you hear the click of the metronome, you move to the next note. When you finally play the last note (the G), let it sound during 4 beats (4 clicks of the metronome). When you master it well at 60 beats per minute (bpm), speed it up to, let’s say 70 bpm. Then 80 bpm, and so on.

Another exercise would be to play the sequence as in the next figure, so the notes:  C  E  G  E  C . For the C, use finger 1. For the E finger 3 and for the G finger 5 (as in the previous exercise). Again, do this with the metronome. Start slowly and then speed it up.

Music exercise 2

A last exercise: play the sequence:  C  E  D  F  E  G  F  D  C (see the next figure). Use again the same finger positions, so: 1 on C, 2 on D, 3 on E, 4 on F and 5 on G. As always, start slowly (60 bpm) and when you master it, speed it up.

Music exercise 3

 

Step 10: Play that song!

Let’s finally play our first real song! We will do “Twinkle twinkle little star”, since that song is not too difficult and everyone knows it.

In the video below, I explain clearly how to play Twinkle twinkle. Notice that we will not have exactly the same finger positions as before. This is because we go from a G to an A. When you have your little finger (finger 5) on the G, as we did before, you’ll have to play also the A with the same finger. In this way, you cannot link the notes nicely together. So, in the first line of the song, you have to play the G with finger 4 instead of with finger 5.

And that’s it; you played your first song on the piano! And I think you deserve a big applause for this!

Are you interested in more? You can follow the free theory lessons and the exercises on this site.

Are you interested in piano lessons? I have an online piano course with 14 hours of video, lots of play along files and with PDF files with scales and chords. You can have more information on the “Music courses”-page of this website.

 

I hope you liked this piano lesson. Please let me know what you find of this article in the comments below.

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Sharps and flats – Key signature

In the treble clef and bass clef lessons, you learned how to read and write the ‘white key notes’, the ones without sharps or flats; how to write sharps and flats in sheet music?

Sharps and flats

How to write a sharp note in a staff? It’s really simple: just put the sharp sign (#) before the note.

For example, this is an F#:

F sharp

And this is a D#:

D sharp

For a flat note, just write the flat sign (b) before the note:

This is a Gb:

G flat

And this is an Eb:

E flat

Important is that this sharp or flat sign is only valid from the moment the sign is displayed till the end of the measure you’re in. In the next example, I’ll explain this in more detail (btw, the staff is in treble clef):

sharp sign example

The notes in the first measure are: F#   G   A   F#. So, the last note in the first measure is an F#, not an F. The notes in the second measure are: F   G   A   F. The sharp sign from the first measure is not anymore valid in the second measure.

But what if I wanted to have F#   G   A   F in the first measure? In that case, we have the natural sign, that cancels the sharp sign before the first note:

sharp and natural sign example

The same rule applies to flat notes. The flat sign is only valid within the measure where it is used. If we want to cancel the flat sign for a certain note in the same measure, you can apply the same natural sign as with the sharp notes.

Key signature

Have a look at the next melody, which is in the key of F major:

melody in F major 1

You see that the melody has one flat note, the Bb. That’s normal, since F major has a flat note in its scale, the Bb!

You would expect this Bb to occur even more often in the melody. And that’s exactly what happens, have a look at the next line in this song:

melody in F major 2

When I would display also the rest of the song, you would see even more B flats appear.

Wouldn’t it be much easier to say at the beginning of the song that every B should be seen as a Bb? Well, that’s exactly what is normally done. We put the flat sign in the beginning, between the clef and the time signature. Now, the same song can be displayed as follows:

melody in F major 3

 

B flat

 

Note that not only B’s that are on the 3rd line of the staff become Bb’s. All the B’s become Bb’s, so also this one.

 

Sharps and flats that are displayed between the clef and the time signature, are called the key signature.

Key signature GThe key signature corresponds with the major or minor key the song is in. When a song is in G major, which, as you know, has only one sharp (the F#), the key signature looks as:

 

Now, the same key signature also applies to E minor, since E minor is the relative minor of G major. So, every key signature can be used for a major key and its relative minor key.

Other key signatures

We can display the key signatures for all major and minor keys in the circle of fifths. This gives us a nice and quick overview of all the sharps and flats in the major and minor keys:

circle of fifths

Now that you know about sharps, flats and key signatures, check your knowledge with the quiz that is accesible via the link below:

Final music reading exercise – Level I

 

Please let us know if this lesson helped you in learning about sharps, flats and key signatures by leaving a comment below.

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Measures (bars) – How many beats in a bar

Musical notes on a staff are grouped in measures, or also called bars (I will use both terms in this lesson). How many beats in a bar there are? Well, that depends on the time signature, as we will see soon.

How many beats in a bar (or measure)?

You can often hear musicians that play together count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 before the song starts. What they are counting, are actually the beats in a measure. Most songs have 4 beats in a bar. You can count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – … during the whole song (when the time signature doesn’t change during the song).

Another common type of songs has 3 beats in a measure. A waltz is an example of a piece with 3 beats per measure.

Those two types (4 beats in a bar and 3 beats in a bar) are most common, but other numbers of beats in a bar are also possible.

Time signature – 4 quarter time

Let’s again have a look at songs that have 4 beats in a measure. You remember probably that a quarter note has a duration of exactly one beat. So that means that instead of saying 4 beats per measure, you could also say: 4 quarter notes per measure. A piece of music that has 4 quarter notes per measure is called a piece in 4 quarter time. Or, you can also say: the time signature is 4 quarter.

In sheet music, in the beginning of a piece, we write this as follows (after the treble or bass clef):

4 quarter time signature 1

Since 4 quarter is the most common time signature, it’s also very often written as follows:

4 quarter time signature 2

Now, 4 quarter notes per bar doesn’t mean that you can only have quarter notes. It means that all the note durations of the notes in one bar added together make 4 beats. For example, 1 bar can consist of one whole note, or 2 half notes, or a half note with 2 quarter notes. One bar can have 8 eighth notes, or 4 eighth notes and 2 quarter notes, etcetera, as long as the total duration is that of 4 beats.

Let me give an example of 4 quarter time music. In the next staff, 2 bars of a little musical line are written out. Note that the bars are separated by vertical lines.

4 quarter time example

For a good understanding of the music, it’s important to know on which beat the notes in a song are. To know this, you can count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 etcetera during the whole song. In the next sound sample, you will hear the musical line written in the staff above. The metronome will count to 4 before the song starts. Count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 with the metronome and pay attention which notes in the staff are exactly on beat 1, beat 2, etcetera.

When you do it well, you should come up with the following:

4 quarter time beat number

Time signature – 3 quarter time

We already know how many beats in a bar the 3 quarter time signature has: that’s 3 beats, or 3 quarter notes. But any other combination of note lengths can be made that add up to 3 quarter notes, of course. So, 1 quarter note plus 4 eighth notes, or 2 quarter notes and 2 eighth notes, etcetera.

The symbol for the 3 quarter time signature that has to be placed in the beginning of the staff is:

3 quarter time

 

Here’s the first line of “Amazing grace”, which is in 3 quarter time:

 

Amazing grace 3 quarter time

You might notice a strange thing: the first measure only has 1 quarter note, when it should be 3! This happens quite often in the beginning of a song: the song actually starts on beat 3 instead of on beat 1. We call this first measure with only one quarter note a pickup, or more oficially, an anacrusis.

Below, you can listen to a sound sample of the first line of Amazing grace. The metronome begins by counting to 3 (because it’s 3 quarter time), then it starts again to 3. The pickup note (the G) is then played on beat 3. So, this means that you will hear the metronome count 5 times before the first note plays.

Other time signatures

There are many other time signatures, sometimes very exotic ones, like for example 11 eighth. I will not talk about those very complicated time signatures, but let me introduce you 2 more or less common ones.

6 eighth time

In a 6 eighth time signature, you can have 6 eighth notes per bar.

How many beats in a bar is that? Well, that’s 6 beats, because every beat in a 6 eighth time signature goes with an eighth note. Now, this might be confusing for you, because in my lesson about note durations I told that a quarter note was exactly one beat… Well, this is true for all the ‘quarter time signatures’, like 3 quarter and 4 quarter. In ‘eighth time signatures’ (like 3 eighth or 6 eighth), every eighth note is exactly one beat.

In fact, the ‘8’ in 6 eighth means that every beat corresponds to an eighth note. The ‘6’ in a 6 eighth time means that you have 6 of those eighth notes in a measure.

An example of a 6 eighth time is “Norwegian wood” from the Beatles. Here’s the first line:

Norwegian wood

Now, compare this line with the sound sample of the first line of Norwegian wood:

 

You might ask: “What’s the difference between 3 quarter and 6 eighth? You could very well have 6 eighth notes in a 3 quarter time piece!

The difference is: which beats are accentuated?

When you have 6 eighth notes in a 3 quarter time piece, you actually have 3 times 2 eighth notes.  You could count like: ‘1 and 2  and 3 and’  for the 6 notes. The accents are on beat 1, 2 and 3.

When you have 6 eighth notes in a 6 eighth time piece, beats 1 and 4 are accentuated, so there are 2 groups of 3 eighth notes in a bar. You can then count as follows: ‘1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6′.

5 quarter time

One of the most famous pieces in 5 quarter time is “Take five” by Dave Brubeck. How many beats in a bar has a piece in 5 quarter time? Well, 5 of course: 5 quarter notes.

Below, you can listen to “Take five” (see if you can count with the song: 1-2-3-4-5   1-2-3-4-5 etc):

 

I hope this lesson helped you to learn about bars and beats. Please tell us what you think of it in the comments below.

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All bass clef notes

When you’ve seen my lesson about treble clef notes, you know how to find all the notes on the staff with a  treble clef, especially if you remember the trick how to memorize them (the FACE-notes). To easily find all bass clef notes, we also have a little trick. Keep reading to find out how to find all bass clef notes.

How to find all bass clef notes?

The bass clef is mainly for notes from middle C and lower. So this is for the left hand on the piano. This is, however, not a rule. You can display notes on a bass clef that are higher than middle C. And sometimes, but not often, notes on the bass clef are played with the right hand.

To indicate that the staff we’re reading is in bass clef, we use the next bass clef symbol at the beginning of the staff:

bass clef

On the next staff, you can see all bass clef notes on and in between the 5 lines of the staff:

all bass clef notes

The highest note, the A on the upper line of the staff, is the A just under the middle C, so a minor 3rd under the middle C.

As I promised you, there’s also a trick to easily remember all bass clef notes. When I display only the notes in between the lines of the staff, we get:

all cows eat grass 1

At first sight, those notes A, C, E and G don’t make up a nice word as was the case with the FACE-notes in the treble key. But, the letters of those bass notes form the first letters of the sentence “ALL COWS EAT GRASS”. all cows eat grass 2

With this trick, it’s easy to remember the bass notes in between the lines of the staff. The other notes are then easy to find from those 4 notes.

Ledger lines

As with the treble clef, we can add ledger lines to the staff. When you don’t remember how they work, have a look at the treble clef lesson.

Can you see which note is displayed here?

low B on bass clef

It’s a (very low) B!

And this one?

middle C on bass clef

Well, this is an important one to remember: it’s the middle C!

The middle C is on the first ledger line above the bass clef staff. Remember that the middle C is also on the first ledger line under the treble clef staff.

Treble and bass clef together

treble and bass clef

In sheet music for piano, you find the treble clef (generally for the right hand) and the bass clef (generally for the left hand) displayed together as in the figure above.

 

Now that you learned how to read notes on the bass clef, be sure to practice this regularly. The exercise that is accesible via the link below is ideal for this purpose.

Place the note on the bass clef on the piano keyboard (only white keys)

 

 

Please tell us what you think of this lesson (for example what did you think of the trick to remember the bass clef notes?) by leaving a comment below.

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